Playground Darwinism: Or, Survival of the Snottiest

That urge overcame me again today: you know, the one where I want to dump a gallon of pond slime on a 7-year old girl.

Boo was filling cups with water from the sandbox tap. (And did I mention to all you Northerners that it was 72 degrees again this January day?) The San Francisco Park & Rec Demigods have decreed that all child-accessible water spigots shall require a force equal to nine strong oxen to operate, so I was enlisted to be the turner-offer-and-onner. Also benefitting from my largesse were three girls aged 5 to 8 or so, sisters I guess.

As is her wont, Boo angled over to the trio and asked, “Can I play tea party with you?”

“We’re not having a tea party,” came the response. “We’re making a cake.”

Undeterred (that’s my girl!), Boo asked, “Can I make a cake with you?”

“You’re too little,” said the biggest one, who was possibly two inches taller than Boo. (My daughter’s tall.) I suppose they meant that Boo’s too young, although she’s a pretty good cake maker, if I do say so myself. Already, I was anticipating the debriefing I’d be having with my daughter on the topic of how mean girls should be pitied because they’ve been raised by sociopathic coyotes in a cave somewhere. Not very smart sociopathic coyotes, either.

Then the whole thing got even worse.

Boo was protesting her cake-making skill when the 7-year old middle sister said, “You can’t play with us. You’re not [insert racial/ethnic identity here].” (I’m not saying which, ’cause it doesn’t matter.)

Oh, crapola. Boo knows next to nothing about race. She very occasionally mentions how some friend looks a little like Gordon (of Sesame Street) or her friend D—, but not often. We’re surrounded by friends and dolls and playmates and family members (and, bless us, a PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!) who range from quite a lot to very little pigment in those skin cells. So (I think) she just doesn’t pay much attention.

But to get singled out for exclusion because she’s irreparably not part of a particular circle — well, that knocked poor Boo for a loop. She’s rarely deflated, and this turnabout hit hard: shortly later, she asked to leave the playground. She never asks to leave the playground.

Still there’s no point to being not-quite-three if not to recover quickly, and by the afternoon Boo was happily playing with the neighbor kids in our backyard, playground queen bee meanies forgotten.

And me? I take a lesson from it: I get complacent about my daughter being the strong one, fearless in the face of talking trees and crowds and big kids. I forget (at my peril) that my daughter is a neophyte in social circles. The years to come will bring more mean girls, not to mention broken loyalties and tribal gossip and friends who drift and … well, all the pitfalls of being among peers. And just as carefully as I watch her dangle upside down from the monkey bars, I need to observe my daughter’s interpersonal risk-taking too, and (somehow, without her noticing) stand ready to catch her if she falls.